Education Relationships

The Right Words

This YouTube video spoke to me.

Once, someone hurt me. Physically. Emotionally. I trusted him, and he pushed my head under the water and drowned me. He never apologized. Until he did. Many years later, he said:

I’m sorry for ruining the thing we had.

Strangely, that one sentence – spoken without defensiveness or anger – made my lungs fill up with air. I started breathing again. I felt I’d set down a thousand pound steamer trunk, and I didn’t even know I’d been lugging a steamer trunk around!

Can you recall a time in your life when you experienced the power of words? When “getting the words right,” – either saying them or hearing them or writing them or receiving them in writing –  really mattered and made an impact on you?

Find me on Twitter @rasjacobson

34 thoughts on “The Right Words

  1. Very powerful.

    I thought the somebody – the somebody who was going to come along – would maybe sit and describe things.

    But it’s a great lesson in communication nonetheless.

  2. When I was in junior high, I was terrorized. The small school I was in was very cliquey and if you didn’t belong to the clique, you were an outcast, an outsider, a nobody.

    I was just one of many outcasts, nobodies.

    One of my very good friends left the school because she was harassed so much. This would happen both in school, and out, the teachers turned a blind eye. Another friend tried to kill himself because it was so bad. I had seriously considered doing some damage to myself, or my family. I thought if I wasn’t around, things would be better. I was miserable. It was a horrible time in my life.

    Then, one of my best friends saw how painful life was for me and said simply:

    “It gets better.”

    That saved my life.

    I think it’s the words that are said simply, honestly, and with conviction that really get to us. How many times has a simple, “I’m sorry.” been enough to end an argument? How many times has an, “I love you.” been all the words you need to hear? Those simple words mean volumes to those who hear them.

  3. Oh, Renee, that just made me cry.

    I couldn’t wait to get to see what was on the sign. And now I’m crying.

    I have never doubted the power of words. It’s why I love them more than numbers (as if math is even worth loving? ha!)

    I can tell you this – for my entire life, my parents were not “I love you” parents. Their actions were loving; they were and are fabulous. I know I am cherished.

    But we are not comfortable saying the words out loud.

    I wrote a lot (and still do) for them, but rarely do I write the words I love you.

    It is almost painful. which I think is weird, but it’s true.

    So with my own children? I say I love you over and over and over.
    Perhaps this isn’t the best way to show them or to tell them.

    But I never want them to wince at the words. Ever.

    I also don’t want them to take I love you for granted. So I don’t know if I’m doing the right thing.

    But I love them. So I tell them. And I write it down for them. And I will keep doing it.

    Because it’s a beautiful day and I want them to see it…

  4. As you suggest, hurtful words are most hurtful when uttered by an intimate and that intimacy can never be truly restored except when the most forgiving fool allows it. It is a true betrayal. I have learned not to let the words hurt me and cut the person out of my life with masterful surgical aplomb, but the new aloofness or end of the friendship is regretful. I do realize that things are sometimes spoken in anger or out of frustration and does not mean the other person was being purposely hateful.

    1. I am not fond of cutting people out of my life. Friends are very important to me. In fact, I have been accused of being a people collector.

      But I no longer allow people to hurt me the way I once used to.

      The cutting still hurts.

      The silence is still loud.

      The absence of words still rings in my ears.

      1. Cutting people out is heartbreaking and your loyalty is admirable. I am in substance abuse recovery. If my person, regardless of the nature of the relationship, is sucking down the vodka or sucking on that pipe they must be out of my life. Completely. Hopefully they will recover as well but until then there must be no connection. They will bring you to death with them.

  5. The right words give you more than an image, it gives you a feeling.

    A speaker is an artist that uses his speech as his canvas and his words as his brush strokes. We, the audience, will determine his greatness.

    I am who I am. A dabbler in the fine art of “paint by numbers”.

    1. You are right, Tuck. The right words inspire a feeling. Like in the video. Like when someone who is tough on you – someone who pushes you to your limits – finally pays you a compliment. Those words have weight.

  6. I love this. Melissa or Jeff posted it last week on FB and I remembered playing it and just crying. Hannah came in the room and was like, “Mom? What the heck is wrong with you?” Thanks Hannah for the compassion… but then I showed her the video and even she was moved. Thanks for reminding us again how important our words are Renee! Love ya!

    1. My father-in-law showed this to me. He is just learning how to use the computer. I started crying the moment I saw it.

      Because I am a dork.

      The dork who loves words.

      The girl who see through the childhood lie about sticks and stones. Sticks and stones can break bones, but words can break your heart. Hands can be fists or palms, open – offering. So too, words.

  7. I’m going to show this to my students. And then we will write.

    But now, I’ll write.

    Someone, somewhere once made me feel small. Well, that’s not exactly true, because no one can make me feel a certain way. But, I felt small because I believed what he said: that I wasn’t smart enough. Months passed. Maybe even a year or two, until I decided to end that hurt.

    In the cafe with him one final time, I saw a newspaper, folded over, to reveal the bottom half of a full page ad. It said, “Maybe it’s time to start a new relationship.”

    Months later on a life changing trip to Kenya (single and free), I met a poet. I found myself more fully still. He gave me new words, a motto of sorts from kneading my name: “Lean and Shuttle on Life.”

    The power of words, three times. Once hurtful. Once prescriptive. Once poetic.

    1. Oh, Leanne.

      So beautiful.

      And what a great lesson for our children and our students.

      How words can be all these things: hurtful, prescriptive, poetic.

      I plan to use this in my Comp-101 class, too. In the fall. Because it is the perfect writing prompt.

  8. Yes. My mom was an alcoholic. Before she died, she sobered up, and she apologized with all her heart. It made all the difference in the world. Great post.

    1. Thank you, Piper.

      For your honesty.

      I have a chapter in my book called “The Dented Box of Love.”

      It conveys the idea that the love we wanted from our parents isn’t necessarily the love we received, but alas, there it is, flopping around in a dented box. It isn’t pretty. It’s kind of yucky even. Sloppy. And the box isn’t even wrapped the way you would like it or anything. But still, there comes a point when we realize they all did the best they could.

      And isn’t that what we do, too? We do the best that we can.

      And we hope to do a little better.

  9. Yes. Writers rejoice at this!!!

    When I had to tell my dad my boyfriend and I were pregnant with Bug (happy endings not yet evident), he was so disappointed he said, “I am such a failure, I should just kill myself.”

    Not I was the failure but that he was. His disappointment was so overwhelming that he couldn’t see past it, and as a great writer himself, he knew the power of those words and he had every intention to use them to cut, to make me feel as hurt as he had.

    Yes, my father apologized once he got over the shock, but the hurt wasn’t quite healed until the day when I was several months along my pregnancy, and he kneeled before me, held my face in his hands and said, “You are so beautiful.”

    Thanks for sharing that video. I watched it twice and teared up both times.

    1. Oh Jess…

      What an amazing story. I’m so glad that you and your father reconciled. And that he saw your beauty before Bug came along.

      I can’t help tearing up each time I watch it.

      Something about the shoes… the way he touches her shoes. Something in that gesture just undoes me.

      1. I’m reading all these comments and am crying! Jess, what a story. With redemption.

        And the shoes, Renee. I wish touch was more an acceptable part of our society. I love touch. Am freed by it. Even the touching of things. Standing barefoot in the grass. The silky feel of an elderly woman’s hand. We need a touch revolution. And a words revolution. Maybe those two things –touch and words –are more connected than I think.

  10. I was gut-punched by some pretty harsh unexpected words just this January. Someone who I considered a friend wrote a horrible blog about my son’s hospitalization. He had HUS. I was attacked at my most vulnerable and I had no idea why. The words were pretty evil and I still carry the cloud of them around. I see the person on a regular basis and wonder how they feel, if they regret being so mean. Almost daily I consider blogging about it but I can’t. Yet.

    Words are SO powerful. Thanks for such a great read.

    1. Annie:

      I am so sorry. People can be stooopid.

      Maya Angelou once said: “I’m not in it.” Sometimes, when people hurt me, I try to figure out how it might be possible that they would say something like that, a scenario where they might not have meant it the way it came out.

      You know, like maybe that person was going through a difficult time of her own so she lashed out at you. Or maybe she is terrified of her own children getting sick. Or maybe she goes to judgment first and means to apologize later, but can’t.

      I’m not saying she was right or that you are wrong for feeling the way you did.

      Just that maybe her words weren’t really about you.

      Maybe you weren’t in “it” at all.

      1. I’m one to always give the benefit of the doubt so I totally understand what you are saying. And honestly the post was a jab at Christianity but with the knife pointed straight at me.

        So you are right, it wasn’t about me.

        However, I had just seen my son go through 2 surgeries, 9 blood transfusions, and kidney dialysis. Not to mention other graphic details not fit to type here. And she was aware of all of these things, yet she still chose to exploit my suffering.

        I’m getting beyond the hurt gradually. One of these days I will be brave enough to stand beside her at a soccer game and asked her why.

  11. The well placed words. The healing words. The ephinany words. Seems we don’t get many of them. Wonderful to read your posters gifted with some of these good words, words like pure water.

    Seems we get a lot more of either kiss-my-ass words or stick-it-to-me-subtle words. Or sheer babbling.

    Not trying to be exotic, just my example. I imagined some words during our Day of the Dead celebration here in Mexico last Fall. We went to a street fair where 3 city blocks of householders built altars outside homes, for their dead loved ones.

    I built a little altar at home for my parents. That night, I imagined, passing a framed photo of my dad placed on a dresser, that he said two things to me:

    1. Don’t be petty

    2. Don’t take things too seriously

    I don’t believe in ghostbusters, but that night it seemed real. Anyway, honestly, ever since last November 2, I have been thinking over how those well placed words fit so perfectly to my life now.

    Savvy individuals carry on even when their loved ones tell them it’s dorky to play a recorder or it’s stupid to hike in an area where the views are all the same. You can’t take your loved ones too seriously on matters of taste, no matter how personal. I have before, like that time dearest dad, er, nevermind.

    Better to free your mind.

  12. A very tender You-tube. It does explain SO MUCH. Saying the correct words does SO MUCH good.

  13. Excellent and true! I cried while posting this, a very powerful message! Awesome bloggie Renee! I remember words hurting me and I try to keep that in mind before I speak. If for some reason a hurt slips out, I try to use better words to right my wrong. Peace <3

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